Forces to lose their five-star ranks

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Defence Correspondent

The highest ranks in the British armed forces - Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet, and Marshal of the RAF - are to be abolished, bringing to an end 700 years of history.

No longer will ambitious soldiers be guided by Napoleon's words: "Every soldier carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack." The "five star" ranks will pass into history for the ignoble reason that Britain simply does not have enough servicemen for them to command.

The ranks have played a glittering part in Britain's military history: the Second World War produced field marshals like Montgomery of Alamein; Earl Alexander of Tunis; William Slim, and Lord Alanbrooke, and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten. One of Britain's greatest soldiers was Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington. Some, like Wellington and Mountbatten, had an advantage of birth, others, like Montgomery, climbed from relatively humble beginnings.

Abolition of the ranks, which the holders retain even after leaving active service, was the only firm decision announced yesterday in the Government's interim appraisal of the Bett report on armed forces' pay and conditions. Other decisions will be published in the summer.